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Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Turlock, CA

An Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation

A Detailed History Of OurTurlock Church

The following are the details of the 97 year history of Light Of Christ Lutheran Church in Turlock formerly known as Nazareth Lutheran Church in Turlock.

"This congregation was organized on March 10, 1912." So begins an historical account of this Turlock Church written on the event of her twenty-fifth anniversary. The Rev. M.A. Nordstrom was the first pastor of a small faithful group of "Swedish Lutherans" which banded together at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Magnus Lundell, 300 Locust Street in Turlock. Under Pastor Nordstorm's guidance, John Erickson, John Anderson and Magnus J. Lundell were elected to serve as deacons with Oscar Anderson, John Lundin, and Adolf Swanson selected as trustees. Mrs. Sven (Hanna) Norquist agreed to serve as church organist.

This Turlock Church was to be the youngest member of a circuit parish which also included Berea Lutheran Church in Hilmar and Saron Lutheran Church in Escalon. It was agreed that they pay $100.00 plus parsonage rental costs as compensation for the pastor's services. The congregation then called the theological student, W.X. Magnuson, to serve as their first pastor. A Letter of Call was submitted on April 29, 1913. On September 7, 1913, the Rev. Winfield Xenephon Magnuson, who hailed originally from Swedonia, Illinois, began his ministry in at this Turlock Church. He was greeted by a small but enthusiastic congregation of twenty charter members together with their twelve children. That, however, was soon to change as this young Turlock church organized a Sunday School with Mr. Lundell serving as superintendent. By the end of 1913 this new Lutheran church in Turlock, CA had forty-two communicant members in addition to twenty-one children.

In order to accommodate this growing Turlock church it was decided that a sanctuary be built on a lot located on S. Broadway, which would be donated by Andrew Johnson. The incorporation papers for this new church in Turlock were filed with the State of California record the charter for "The Evangelical Lutheran Nazareth Congregation of Turlock, California."

In those early days the parish proudly displayed a boldly painted sign over the front entrance of the new church building which proclaimed it to be the "Swedish Lutheran Church." The cost for the building and furnishings came to a grand total of $1,605.59. The new building for this young church in Turlock was dedicated on December 14, 1913, and at the time of its dedication this young Turlock church was debt-free.

Pastor Magnuson resigned his call in February 1916, but remained as interim pastor until June 1, 1916, while the congregation sought a successor. The next pastor to be called was the seminary graduate, John Billdt, who was ordained in July of 1916. Pastor Billdt preached his first sermon at Nazareth in Turlock in August. Pastor Billdt was originally from Sweden, arriving in America in 1905. During his pastorate a "Women's Missionary Society" was organized (1916) and a new parsonage was built on W. Main Street in order to accommodate the pastor's growing family. The cost for the parsonage was $3,000.00 and it was completed in 1917.

In 1920, the parish voted to divide into two separate congregations, effective Easter Sunday of 1920. Pastor Billdt was called to remain with the Nazareth congregation in Turlock and the Rev. O.B. Hanson was called to serve Berea Lutheran Church in Hilmar. Saron Lutheran Church in Escalon had been reorganized earlier as an independent congregation. Although Saron, Berea, and Nazareth have been chartered as separate congregations for many years now, a close bond still exists between these sister churches.

Pastor Billdt resigned his call on September 20, 1923, and moved to San Jose, California. The Rev. Brent O. Berg served as interim pastor until the Rev. C.W. Samuelson arrived from Rush City, Minnesota, in September of 1924. During this time the congregation sold the old church property and land was purchased on the corner of Orange and Columbia Streets in Turlock for the site of a new church building. In the June, 1925, edition of the church newsletter, "The Nazarene Messenger, Pastor Samuelson writes: "The Old church building has served its purpose. The few who were members of the congregation when that church was erected certainly had to sacrifice in order to be able to erect such a building... Now times and conditions have changed. The church congregation has increased in size, 'the beautiful little church' has become shabby and the city of Turlock has grown in the opposite direction... If we, who are now members of the congregation, will sacrifice in proportion as much as those members who built the old church, then we can feel assured that we will have a new church within a short time." Plans were set in motion in January of 1927. On March 13, 1927, Pastor Samuelson officiated at the ground breaking ceremony as Mr. Claus Hillberg, the builder, laid the cornerstone. The new church building was completed on November 6, 1927, and was formally dedicated to the glory of God on March 28, 1928. The total cost of the new edifice was recorded at $17,004.31. The former church site on S. Broadway has subsequently been occupied by the Snider Lumber Co., the Modesto Lumber Co., and presently by a feed store. At that time Nazareth's membership included "182 communicants, 40 confirmed and 80 who were 'non-confirmed.'" After a pastorate of six years, Pastor Samuelson resigned his call, preaching his final sermon in January of 1930. The Samuelson family later settled in Akron, Iowa.

The Rev. Ferdinand J. Ellman, originally from Sweden, was called to serve Nazareth Lutheran Church as pastor and arrived in Turlock with his family on July 4, 1930. During Pastor Ellman's ministry the church enjoyed further growth and, in 1935, "mothered" a new congregation in Modesto by commending some fifty-two adult members to help charter the newly-organized Emanuel Lutheran Church in Modesto. During this time the W. Main Street parsonage was remodeled to accommodate a growing family.

In his notes for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the then Nazareth Lutheran Church, Pastor Ellman noted that "We have preached the Word of God to the best of our ability and as God has given His grace... we believe that the faithful teaching and preaching of the Word will bear fruit in the hearts of all (who) are best and open minded." Clearly such a witness offered powerful inspiration during the difficult years of the Great Depression!

The congregation suffered a great emotional loss with the death of Pastor Ellman on November 10, 1942. Pastor Ellman had only about two months earlier resigned his call due to ill health and moved with his family to the Los Angeles area. Dr. M.A. Odell served as "vice pastor" with preaching provided by Pastors Heurlin, Person, together with the seminary student, Richard Bingea, who reported that he made pastoral visits throughout the city of Turlock on his bicycle.

The Rev. Paul D. Engstrand, originally from Chicago, Illinois, accepted the call to serve as pastor at the then Nazareth Lutheran Church in Turlock. He arrived with his family on September 3, 1943. America was then in the throes of her greatest armed conflict and twenty-six young men of our Turlock congregation served with honor during World War II. As during the Great Depression, the "War Years" were difficult times for Turlock. Pastor Engstrand afforded vital spiritual leadership when it was most needed. Later, in 1949, Pastor Engstrand was obliged to resign his call due to poor health. Dr. Odell once again served Nazareth Lutheran Church during a year-long interim. During this period the parsonage was again remodeled.

The Rev. Neal Pearson, originally from Rockford, Illinois, came to Turlock in August of 1950. At about this time it became apparent that more space was needed for the church because of the burgeoning Sunday School and for other necessary church ministries. Plans were made and new construction began on a major addition to the existing Turlock church complex. A new two-story educational wing and adjoining social hall were built. New office space was created on the wing's first floor, and a new kitchen and conference room were also completed. After this construction was finished, the old Deegan house, located behind the church on Columbia Street, was torn down to provide much needed parking space. This house had previously been used for the church nursery and Sunday School annex.

In 1952, during Pastor Pearson's call, this church in Turlock "mothered" a second congregation: Christ Lutheran church in San Lorenzo, California. The Rev. Luther G. Knock was called to serve as their first pastor. In June of 1957, Pastor Pearson resigned his call at Nazareth Church in Turlock, accepting a new call to Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Minnesota.

The Rev. William Conrad was called to succeed Pastor Pearson and he arrived in Turlock in November of 1957. During his ministry a new pulpit, lectern, bulletin/hymn board, communion railing, and outdoor lighting were dedicated. It was also during Pastor Conrad's ministry that the mother synod, "The Augustana Lutheran Church," then 102 years old, merged with the American Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the United Lutheran Church in America, to become the "Lutheran Church in America." This took place on June 28-July 1, 1962.

"Under the common call of One Lord... One Faith," the LCA was born. On August 1, 1962, Pastor Conrad completed his ministry at the then Nazareth Lutheran Church in Turlock and moved with his family to Palmdale, California. In October of 1962 the Rev. Adolf W. Dickhart accepted the call to serve as pastor at Nazareth. Pastor Dickhart brought with him the wisdom of many years in parish ministry to the Turlock church. It was said that "the pews were filled with respondent hearts." Pastor Dickhart was a profound and faithful teacher of the Gospel and of the Lutheran Confession. His confirmation classes were greatly influenced by his radiant faith. Tragically, the Rev. A.W. Dickhart died while in the midst of his ministry on November 27, 1965. He is still revered by those who knew him.

The Rev. Lloyd R. Hanson received and accepted the call to serve as Pastor Dickhart's successor, arriving in Turlock on October 15, 1966. Pastor Hanson served during a period of tremendous social change which was notably marked by the Vietnam Conflict and the tumultuous "Grape Pickers' Strike." These events, together with a differing philosophy on educational curriculum, impacted heavily on the Turlock Church congregation. As a result, a significant number of families chose to affiliate with neighboring churches. Pastor Hanson accepted these adversities with good grace, but it was a difficult time for both him and the congregation. After a ministry of nine years, Pastor Hanson accepted a call to ministry at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Carmichael, California, where he subsequently retired. Pastor Hanson was known as a bold crusader for those causes in which he believed, and for his dedication to Christ.

The Rev. H. William Busch accepted the call to serve as the next pastor at this church in Turlock, arriving June 22, 1976. Raised as a child in war-torn Berlin, Germany, Pastor Busch brought with him a deep compassion for those in need. He also was instrumental in the Men's Brotherhood at the Church, which organized in September of 1976. During his call, the congregation supported Pastor Busch's efforts to complete his Doctor of Ministry degree. This work focused on a new Confirmation Camp Curriculum which is still used at Mt. Cross Bible Camp in Felton, California. At this time Mr. Ted Dixon joined the church as organist and music director. He was instrumental in the purchase of a new Wicks pipe organ, which greatly augmented the quality of worship music at this Turlock Church. An experienced choral director at Turlock High School, Mr. Dixon provided motivated leadership in developing the music program at the church, which included the organization in 1981 of a hand bell "choir" which has added significantly to the beauty of worship. Mr. Leonard Ellefson contributed the funds for the purchase of excellent hand bells and also hand-crafted a fine oak Advent/Christ Candle stand for use in the church.

In January of 1984, Pastor Busch resigned his call to accept the pastorate at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in El Dorado Hills, California. Barely a month later, tragedy struck at the then Nazareth Lutheran Church in Turlock when arsonists set a fire which destroyed the Social Hall and caused an estimated damage of over $137,000. With the able and compassionate leadership of the Rev. Philip A. Jordan, who was serving as interim pastor, the church rose like a phoenix from the ashes. The following Sunday, Pastor Jordan's sermon was entitled "Coping with Anxiety!" Ironically, the title was chosen prior to the fire! During his ministry, the church council was restructured to be presided over by a lay member (previously, the pastor functioned as the congregation president). Dr. James Lilligren was elected as the first lay president at the church in Turlock.

On August 1, 1984, the Rev. Philip E. (Mike) Brown accepted the call to serve as pastor. With the immediate challenge of rebuilding, it was a daunting call. The church office had been temporarily relocated at the home of Beulah Elness and, for a time, the congregation was obliged to worship at the Turlock Covenant Church, which is located nearby. Their gracious hospitality is still deeply appreciated. The congregation was forged together in a new sense of unity as the reconstruction began. When the rebuilt Social Hall and kitchen were completed, together with an expanded church office area, the newly restored Turlock church was rededicated to the glory of God and for the service of those in need on January 27, 1985.

The new church facility was repainted, all fire and smoke damage repaired, rest rooms improved, office areas completed, and the Social Hall and kitchen completely renovated. On October 12, 1986, the memorial patio was dedicated.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was born in 1988, with the merger of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), the American Lutheran Church (ALC), and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). The Rev. Dr. Herbert Chilstrom was chosen to serve as the first presiding Bishop of the ELCA, and the Rev. Lyle G. Miller was elected as first bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod (then known as the N. California-N. Nevada Synod). The ELCA headquarters were established in Chicago, Illinois, and the Sierra Pacific Synod headquarters in Oakland, California. The Central Valley Conference of Churches (Conference 17) included: the then Nazareth Lutheran church, Turlock; Emanuel Lutheran and Calvary Lutheran in Modesto; Saron Lutheran, Escalon; Berea Lutheran, Hilmar; St. John Lutheran, Los Banos; Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran, Merced; Our Redeemer Lutheran, Livingston; Mariposa Lutheran, Mariposa; and Trinity Lutheran, Chowchilla.

In 1989 Pastor Brown accepted a call to serve as a mission/developer pastor in Warsaw, Indiana. After his departure the then Nazareth Lutheran Church in Turlock was served by two interim pastors: the Rev. Karen Deutscher (the first woman pastor to preach at Nazareth), whose ministry at the Turlock Church was abbreviated by the birth of her son, and by the Rev. Ralph van Loon, who was instrumental in the development of the Lutheran Book of Worship. Their ministry was characterized by an inspirational devotion to Christ and a commitment to the congregation's preparation for its new pastor. At this time volunteers from the parish undertook the renovation of the church basement, including the nursery.

The Rev. Paul H. Geye, a native Californian serving a dual parish in Taylor, Texas, was then called to become the new pastor at the then Nazareth Lutheran Church in Turlock. He arrived in Turlock on July 7, 1990, and preached his first sermon at Nazareth the next morning. Pastor Geye was officially installed on August 26, 1990, by Bishop Lyle Miller.

The exterior of the church buildings was repainted in 1991. Daryl Anne Otte was hired as church secretary to replace Lucille Pantazopulos, who had served the Turlock Church faithfully in this position for many years. The addition of new office equipment, including a photocopier, computer and laser printer, and paper-folding machine have allowed Daryl Anne to produce a much improved newsletter, the "VOICE," together with bulletins and other printed materials.

At the Synod Assembly in 1994, the Rev. Robert Mattheis (Lodi, California) was elected to succeed Lyle Miller as Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod. The following year, the Rev. Dr. H. George Anderson was elected at the Church wide Assembly in Minneapolis to succeed the retiring Rev. Dr. Herbert Chilstrom as Presiding Bishop of the E.L.C.A.

In 1995, Dr. Everett Johnson expressed his intent to donate seven acres of land at the southwest corner of Crowell Rd. and Taylor Road for the possible relocation site of the then Nazareth Lutheran Church in Turlock. With the city of Turlock expanding in this direction (the remaining 33 acres of this tract being zoned for residential housing), it seemed a wonderful opportunity for the church of the 21st century. A task force, called the "Vision Committee," chaired by Dr. Norman Schmidt, was established to pursue the feasibility of such a move.

Pastor Geye left Turlock in 2002 and Pastor Roger Lee served as Interim Pastor from 2002 to 2004 when Pastor Michael Mechner was called and served until 2008.

In 2005 the congregation officially changed their name to Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Turlock and built and moved into its present building at 4510 Crowell Road, Turlock, California.

A Church Council retreat was held in May of 2008. Six major goals were identified to work on in the following months of the interim ministry. Pastor Frank Starkey, a retired Lutheran pastor, involved in Intentional Interim Ministry, began serving Light of Christ Lutheran in Turlock in March of 2008 and is currently serving as the pastor. A call committee has been established and is currently seeking and interviewing candidates for the next called pastor for Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Turlock.

We welcome all visitors and invite you to share in our ministry to be Christ's hands and feet today.